Saturday, February 06, 2010

What Else Tom Saenz Says about UAFA and Comprehensive Immigration Reform

by Kathy Drasky

Those of us on the immigration track here at Creating Change in Dallas are getting the feeling that our voices are being heard – not only in our own LGBT community, but in the larger immigration rights community as well.

Thomas Saenz, President of MALDEF, who delivered Thursday night’s opening plenary with a rousing speech about how and why the LGBT community and immigrant community need to work together, and drove it home that comprehensive immigration reform isn’t comprehensive unless it is inclusive and addresses our families too, was back at it first thing Friday morning on the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Why We Need All of It and How to Make Sure It Is LGBT inclusive” panel discussion.

Saenz outlined the objectives of CIR and what this huge bill must accomplish in a very short window.
1) It must fix “the future flow” by changing the current guidelines for who is let into our country and when. Waiting periods that vary from 4 to 23 years(!) must be reduced and be consistent for all immigrants (we all know that some countries are given “preferential treatment” over others). The “who” in this case means LGBT inclusion, with UAFA.
2) It must contain a “legalization program” for the 12 million undocumented. If this doesn’t get fixed now, it never will – and 12 million will grow exponentially.
3) It must have “enforcement reform”. Local governments must stop doing the federal government’s work – it creates distrust in the community – and worse. Meanwhile, the feds need guidelines for treating people with respect and dignity.
4) It must stop local bans against renting to or employing undocumented people.
5) It must contain adjudication and retention reform.
6) Security measures need to be uniform and enforceable regarding borders and international travel.
7) Systems that verify employment and visa eligibility need to be fixed. In their current form, systems like E-verify make mistakes (names not in the system, people being identify as undocumented when they are not).
We keep hearing that immigration reform is going to make health care reform look like a “walk in the park.” After outlining what will be considered acceptable for CIR, Saenz said that the bill could be “cobbled together” from various bills already in Congress, like UAFA, Reuniting Families Act (RFA), Dream Act, AgJobs, and the Gutierrez CIR ASAP bill that came out last year (and, left us out – which Saenz acknowledged was wrong). One thing everyone is in agreement on is that “we need a bill in 2010.”

With the Schumer CIR bill on everyone’s mind – and the rumor this week that it could go the way of the Gutierrez bill and leave out same-sex binational couples – it’s apparent that something is delaying this bill that was set to be introduced on February 1.

Could it be us? Could the inability to reach a compromise with those who want us left out (Catholic bishops and Republicans who see our inclusion as a “back door” to same-sex marriage – giving LGBT people one right out of 1,138 hardly constitutes as back door to anything!) stall the bill beyond an acceptable release date of March or April?

And, what if our issue – or one of the many others outlined above – led to a break down in a truly comprehensive, inclusive immigration reform bill being introduced this spring?

“Look for the smaller bills [like UAFA. RFA, Dream Act, AgJobs and new bills that address detention and adjudication reform]” then to gain traction said Saenz.

Latino voters will not accept non-action in 2010 – they are the largest minority in the US and they vote. They are responsible for Obama being elected president in 2008 and they will make their displeasure known in this year’s mid-term elections if no reform has occurred.

For same-sex binationals, though – it is not the Latino community or Asian community or any other immigrant community who has the problem with UAFA. It is primarily the Catholic bishops, who are very important in the mostly all-Catholic Latino community. However, Saenz says he does not think the problem with the Catholics is “insurmountable.”

“I’m hopeful that UAFA will be included in CIR,” he said. At the end of the day, he thinks Catholic opposition can be overcome with the rationale (and reality) that “there are all different kinds of families in the US who need this reform.”

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